Twice a month, students at Hayes Intermediate School gather to participate in a social club.

A lot of socializing takes place, but the students' conversations are expressed as much by hand signs as word of mouth.

The Hayes Signing Huskies offers students a chance to learn American Sign Language in a relaxed atmosphere, said LoriAnne Clark, the club's adviser.

Clark serves as a sign-language interpreter at Hayes. She accompanies fifth-grader Kenzie Holmstron throughout the school day, helping Holmstron communicate with teachers and classmates.

"The signing club gives our students a way to engage in a more personal and direct way with Kenzie," Clark said. "It helps raise their awareness of the challenges someone who is deaf faces each day."

The club is open to fifth-grade students, and the response has been so great that Clark opted to hold three separate six-week sessions this school year.

"It allows more students to be involved," she said. "I'd like to expand the club to year-round next year so our students could learn even more about sign language."

She started the Signing Huskies club six years ago. The initial group of students has continued its group meetings through Jackson Middle School and into Grove City High School.

During each six-week session at Hayes, students are learning the basics of sign language, Clark said.

"They learn the manual alphabet -- how to form each letter with their fingers, general greeting phrases, numbers, how to spell their names and the signs for colors, people and hobbies," she said.

"It's a basic primer, but you'd be surprised at how much you can learn in a short time."

The goal is to encourage students to continue to learn more about sign language, Clark said.

The club's sessions involve games and activities, not dry lessons in sign language, she said.

At a recent meeting, students rotated among three activities, one in which they tested each other on guessing the colors they were signing, another in which they filled bingo cards based on recognizing a sign that was given and another involving the counting of money.

"I want it to be fun," Clark said. "It's a club, not a class."

The group meets before school every other Tuesday.

"Some of the students join just because they really want to learn sign language and some of them join the club because they know Kenzie and want to have a way to interact with her on a more direct level," Clark said.

Fifth-grader Stephanie Dent said she wanted to participate "because I thought it would help make it easier for me to communicate with Kenzie.

"I knew sign language was a way to communicate, but I didn't know many signs," she said. "Now I know how to spell a lot of people's names and I know a lot of signs for different words and colors.

"It makes me feel good to be learning sign language," Stephanie said.

Fifth-grader Abby Pyles said she wanted to learn sign language so she "can talk to other kids who can't hear.

"Kenzie is in my clas,s and she's really nice," Abby said. "I think someone who is deaf might feel a little left out when they come to school. I like being able to use sign language to talk to Kenzie."

Abby said she practices sign language at home, often showing her younger brother and sister the letters and words she has learned.

"It's good practice, but I also want to encourage them to join the Signing Huskies when they get to Hayes," she said. "I've learned a lot and it's changed me and made me more aware of what it means to be deaf. I want to learn even more about sign language."

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